THE BLOG

Who Can Help Us Eat More Healthily?

17/02/2014 13:31 GMT | Updated 19/04/2014 10:59 BST

Almost two thirds of UK adults are obese or overweight, so says a new survey by Public Health England (PHE). PHE, whose mission is to protect and improve the nation's health and to address inequalities, points out that there are 19 district local authorities with more than 70% of population obese or overweight.

Whose Responsibility is it to Improve These Statistics?

As I outlined last week, Tesco have decided to join the task of educating our children on the origins of our food. The question arises as to whether it truly is their responsibility?

PHE is the government department which oversees and advises local councils on how to help people stay healthy and protect them from threats to their health. In essence, the government wants everyone to be able to make healthier choices, regardless of their circumstances, to minimise the risk and impact of illness. There is, of course, no need to speculate why there is so much concern from the government about our health, but we can correctly assume it has everything to do with the cost of keeping the growing (sicker) nation well.

'Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A call to action on obesity in England' is a policy paper which was published in 2011 and sets out plans for involving the whole of society in reducing obesity:

It states that obesity is everybody's business and that it is the responsibility of individuals to change their behaviour to lose weight;

It urges that a range of partners, including government and business, have a responsibility to help people lose weight;

It outlines that dealing with obesity in children and adults is important;

It has a goal to reduce the number of calories the nation eats every day by 5 billion, further recommending that business has a big part to play in achieving this.

But who else is Helping?

Local Councils

All local councils in England have health and wellbeing boards created to bring together local organisations, which can help people make these healthier choices. A local Healthwatch representative is available through this resource to connect the general public and enable them to be involved in major decision making around health and social care. In principle, every person in England has an opportunity to feed their opinions and ideas into health and wellbeing boards.

NHS

On a more practical level family level, the NHS provide a very informative website. It is bright, cheerful and full of practical information.

Kent Local Authority goes one step further to support healthy lifestyles for people living in Kent through their 'virtual health club'. Actions like this take their time to reap rewards, as evidenced by the 65% - 70% of Kent residents who are still overweight or obese. However, these are all steps in the right direction.

Charities

Charities, such as the British Heart Foundation, have been campaigning for years about marketing unhealthy food and sweetened drinks to children. The BHF Food4Thought Campaign was piloted in 30 schools and empowered children to stock and sell healthy snacks in vending machines. As part of the project schools also competed in an online game, called Snackville, in which they had to look after the health of pupils in a virtual school and build a business empire based on healthy vending machines.

Matching entrepreneurship with healthy living can only be encouraged. As a teacher many years ago, the Home Economics Department campaigned to ban vending machines in the school, however unfortunately the money raised for school activities was deemed more important.

Another charity, the British Liver Trust has also been working hard. This is the UK charity for adults with liver conditions and coordinates The Love Your Liver campaign, which is a national awareness initiative about liver health. Check out how healthy your liver is on http://loveyourliver.org.uk/ Thankfully mine seems to be in good enough shape.

Modern Living - Lifestyle Choices

According to the World Health Organisation, '[a]bout 30% of cancer deaths are due to the following five lifestyle choices: obesity, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco and alcohol use.' The WHO further states that a 75 per cent increase is expected in annual cancer cases over the next two decades, linked to the five lifestyle habits mentioned.

Parent's Choice

While the government, local authorities and charities actively promote healthy life choices, parents have the primary duty of care to provide food that is nutritious. Good wholesome food nurtures good eating habits in children which, in my experience, transfers into their adulthood. Allowing children to be part of the cooking and home management activities in the home provides important life skills. Eating can no longer be a spontaneous activity but needs to be planned in advance, with more importance placed on the grocery list.

What do you think? Whose responsibility is it? Parents, government, big business, charity, community?